We Haven’t Turned the Page on Reading Yet

Published in Woonsocket Call on September 11, 2016

In May 1897, the great American humorist, novelist, publisher and lecturer Samuel Clemens – who we all know as Mark Twain – was in London on a world-wide speaking tour. In this City someone had started a rumor that he was gravely ill, ultimately the rumor changing to he had died.

When Twain was told that one major American newspaper actually printed his obituary, when he was told about this by a reporter, he quipped: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

As the rumor about Twain’s death was “greatly exaggerated” those lamenting the decreasing number of Americans who read print books, even predicting its demise with the advent of e-books, audio books and computer tablets is not correct, says a new Pew Research Center Survey released. Researcher Andrew Perrin notes in his study, “Book Reading 2016” that printed books remain more popular than books in digital formats for American Readers.

AAmericans Love Print Books

According to the survey findings, released on September 1, 65 percent of Americans have read a print book in the last year, more than double the share that has read an e-book (28 percent) and more than four times the share that have listened to an audio book (14 percent).

While the total share of Americans who have read a book in the last 12 months (73 percent) has remained consistent since 2012, nearly four-in-ten Americans read print books exclusively. Just 6 percent of Americans are digital-only book readers, adds the Pew Research Center Survey findings.

Although print remains the most popular book format, Americans who do read e-books are increasingly turning to multipurpose devices such as smartphones and tablet computers, says Pew Research Center Survey findings. The share of e-book readers on tablets has more than tripled since 2011, and the number of readers on phones has more than doubled over that time, says.

Perrin’s 9 page report also details other key findings.

The study found that 84 percent of American adults read to research specific topics of interest, while 82 percent read to keep up with current events, 80 percent read for pleasure, and 57 percent read for work or school. Also, 19 percent of Americans under the age of 50 have used a cellphone to read e-books, and cellphones play a relatively prominent role in the e-reading habits of blacks (16 percent) and those who have not attended college (11 percent).

As to education, the study found that college graduates are nearly four times as likely to read books – and twice as likely to read print books and listen to audio books – compared with those who have not graduated high school. In addition, Americans read an average, or mean, of 12 books per year; however, the typical, or median, American has read 4 books in the last 12 months.

Finally women (77 percent) are more likely than men (68 percent) to read books in general, and they are also more likely to read print books (70 percent). However, men and women are equally likely to read digital-format books such as e-books and audio books.

Book Buying Strong in Rhode Island

Jennifer Massotti, who manages both the Barrington and Cranston locations for Barrington Books, has some thoughts about the recently released report. “The survey findings support the reading style and buying trends that we have seen from our loyal customer base for years. The majority of our customers prefer to read from a physical book. Even those who use their smart phones to research titles, still come in looking to buy the book instead of ordering it online or downloading. This could be personal reading preference or in support of the localism movement. Either way, book buying is strong,” she says.

Massotti does not see book stores becoming obsolete because of today’s digital age. “While the advent of e-readers and online buying options certainly altered the book industry several years back, it has not been the nail in the proverbial coffin that everyone predicted … If anything, there has been a resurgence in the independent bookstore industry, specifically. Brick and mortar stores that are supported by and steeped within their communities are thriving,” she says.

Massotti says, “In fact, in the last year, RI and neighboring MA have seen that growth first-hand with the highly anticipated opening of three new bookstores. It’s a feel-good time in our industry.”

But, the general manager of Barrington Books notes, “downloading a book to your smartphone is convenient and serves a purpose to some. But it doesn’t come close to replicating the authentic experience one finds when perusing the carefully curated stacks in a bookstore, or engaging in a conversation with a like-minded bookseller.”

According to Massotti, bookstores aren’t like most other retail outlets that are in the business of selling goods; bookstores, and books, are the original social media. “It’s a sharable experience, it’s about community. You can’t get that delivered to your door or your phone,”

As to the future of reading, Massotti firmly says that e-books and digital formats will never replace print books.

Self-Publishing Leaves a Legacy

Author Steven R. Porter, a publisher, and president of the Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA), representing over 260 independent and traditionally published authors who live and write in Rhode Island, says that Rhode Islanders love to read locally written books and to chat with the authors. “Readers also find great value in a signed book. There is something special about reading and sharing a book that the author held in their hands. The bottom line is that people who love to read are voracious. They can’t get enough. And we can’t write them fast enough,” he says.

Porter has seen an “explosion of self-published books”in the last 5 years, but more recently, the rate has leveled off. “I think most of the leveling has to do with the fact that there were thousands of frustrated writers in the world and when the gates finally opened, and they all rushed through at the same time,” he says, noting that improved information and technology has efficiently assisted authors getting their books to market.

“Seniors are publishing more and more every day. I think there is an inherent need in all of us to have some sort of legacy. That legacy for many may be achieved through your life’s work, or through your family, says Porter. It is the “ultimate expression of immortality,” he says.

Like Massotti, Porter agrees with the findings of the Pew Research Center’s report on book reading in America. “More people are writing than ever before, and reading than ever before. It’s a great time to be a writer and a reader!,” he says.

To read the report, go to http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/01/book-reading-2016/.

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